Bengaluru-based aerospace startup Team Indus, which is incorporated as Axiom Research Labs Pvt Ltd, has landed a commercial launch contract with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). The contract will allow Team Indus to land a spacecraft on moon as part of its bid to win the Google Lunar XPRIZE.
The moon mission is costing Team Indus around $60 million (Rs 450 crore); and the company has raised $15 million (Rs 100 crore) so far. It is looking to raise more funds in 2017.
Team Indus is the only Indian team competing for the $30 million prize money in the Lunar XPRIZE challenge. To win the prize, privately-funded teams must land their spacecraft on the surface of moon, travel 500 meters, and broadcast high definition videos, images, and data back to earth.
The startup said the spacecraft, aboard the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), will be launched on December 28, 2017 from Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR, Sriharikota.
“The ground centre will belong to ISRO, and once the spacecraft reaches above 800km from earth, it will be completely controlled by Team Indus,” Rahul Narayan, CEO, Team Indus told reporters at a press conference held in New Delhi.
Narayan, who is confident enough of hoisting the tricolour on the surface of moon said this launch contract “reaffirms our mission as a truly Indian mission where the best of India’s public and private enterprises have come together to realise a common dream”.
Team Indus was founded in 2011 by a group of young space enthusiasts with no aerospace experience. “We are similar to SpaceX, not in terms of money but in terms of innovation,” one of the co-founders said.
Last year, the company with no experience in robotics or space flight won $1 million for meeting significant milestones in developing a robot that can safely land on the surface of moon, travel 500 meters over the lunar surface and send Mooncasts.
Team Indus is the fourth company, of the total 16 that have survived the heat till date, to secure verified launch contract for 2017. SpaceIL from Israel, American companies Moon Express and Synergy Moon are the other three companies that have secured verified contracts.
On competition, Narayan said, “We only see SpaceIL as our toughest competition in this challenge. We are definitely going to be among the top two in the final challenge.”
While talking about the team’s journey from the time they launched, Narayan said 2012 was spent on building the mission concept and they designed the system in 2013. In 2014 their efforts materialised and they got selected for the challenge and got the milestone prize, and in 2015 and 2016 they spent on design and creating a prototype spacecraft. In 2017, the spacecraft is set for the launch.
Team Indus is one of the very few companies in India which has managed to attract marquee names as its investors. The company is backed by the likes of Rata Tata, Nandan Nilekani, Flipkart’s Bansals, Sasken Communications’ Raji Mody, TVS Group’s Venu Srinivasan, Jagdish Mehta from CTS India, Gowri Subramanian from Aspire Systems, Anand Deshpande from Persistent Systems, and stock market investors Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, Ashish Kacholia, RK Damani among others.
“India is at the cusp of dramatic change. We are ready to take to the global stage in demonstrating a capability for building deep technology and competing with the best in the world. I invested in Team Indus because they’re the face of New India, and I believe they will inspire the next generation of innovators and achievers,” Nilekani said.
Other than working vigorously for this challenge, the 100-member Team Indus — which includes 20 retired ISRO scientists — is also focussing on building revenue models for the company.
The company said it is building satellites business for both Indian and global market. Asked if ISRO could be one of their potential customers going forward, one of the co-founders said, “ISRO is going big way for privatisation of its efforts, they are timing it right. We will build and provide our satellite solutions and services to ISRO, and they will provide it to their end-customers. Today we are using them as our launch platform, but we will get into commercial engagements with ISRO. Only 25% of the team strength is working on the Google challenge, and the rest are working on building other businesses,” he added.
He said Team Indus will come up with a big announcement in the first quarter of next year, possibly March, on the private side of its business. “We will make a major announcement on our commercial engagement soon.”